Let’s talk about St. Paul

Mike Mason lives and rides bikes in St. Paul, he also works to make St. Paul a better place for riding bikes. We talked about the differences between the two cities and what that means for biking.

Biking in Mpls: What bicycle stuff have you been involved in?

Mike: Early on, I worked with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. Now that I live in St. Paul, I’ve been involved with the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition. Not as an active member or participant but just coming out for the various things and attending public meetings. As we’ve initiated our comprehensive bicycle plan, I’m just trying stay involved and work with my city councilperson. I also worked on Powderhorn 24, because a lot of my friends have been involved with setting that up over the years. I volunteer for that every year. I do lots of rides. I go bike camping with my kids, which has been lots and lots of fun. That’s the thing I love to do most. I commute a lot. With my old company I started a group that helped get us certified as a bicycle friendly business. Lots of trying to casually put myself out there as willing and able to help anyone and everyone who has questions.

It’s starting to get to the point where I feel like I need to do a little bit more active participation in joining some of the local organizations. From both an advocacy standpoint, to ensure things happen, and just having more time now that my kids are older.

Biking in Mpls: It seems like the community around cycling in St. Paul is more tightly knit than in Minneapolis. Obviously there’s a community in Minneapolis, but there’s more political support, so not everyone knows each other.

Mike: They also have a longer-standing group. I mean you have the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition which has full funding and staff and dedicated resources towards advocating for all things bicycle infrastructure within the city. My mom was on the Minneapolis Park Board in the early 90s to roughly late 90s. She had two terms, I want to say. She was on while they were putting in the Midtown Greenway and while they were building out the Kenilworth Trail, a lot of the early infrastructure in Minneapolis that’s now is kind of taken for granted. She helped initially with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and that group had more interest and influence from established political folks within the city of Minneapolis.

Where in St. Paul it’s very grassroots, a few of us keep calling and advocating for different things. Bill [Lindeke]’s great because he’s actually gotten onto some different commissions as he’s been active. It is funny to think about because it reminds me of how the bicycle scene was in Minneapolis for a long time. You’d see the same 10-20 people and you’d be like, oh hey there’s Bjorn, or hey there’s Jessica. Now in St. Paul as I’m riding around I have a little bit of that feeling of when you’ve really liked a band for a long time but now everybody really likes it. Oh look at all these bikers out here, it’s great but I don’t know any of them! There is that.

Biking in Mpls: That’s kind of my impression. 

Mike: I think because St. Paul is at a turning point with investment and building out their infrastructure, the Grand Rounds and having approved their comprehensive bicycle plan and trying to get that work actually put in place, a lot of us now that are a part of the St. Paul – I hesitate to say even St. Paul bicycling scene – those of us who ride bikes in St. Paul are trying to make sure we pressure the right people to ensure it happens. There is the demonstrated backlash against this type of progress that I’ve seen in Minneapolis and repeated in other cities. It’s just a matter of continuing to make sure that those people who are in charge of making sure those things happen have good positive evidence and influence to do that. There’s a lot of rolling back of progress because unfortunately people speak out loudly against all types of change. There’s a lot of change aversion in the city of St. Paul, to the point where there’s a mock T-shirt that says “Keep St. Paul Boring.” Which I love.

Biking in Mpls: Are you going to get one?

Mike: I probably will, I probably will.

Biking in Mpls: It’s also the design of the T-shirt is so terrible, it’s like Times New Roman. It’s in title case. It’s the worst T-shirt.

Mike: Yes, everything about it is perfect. It’s something I’m hoping will show up at City Council meetings.

Biking in Mpls: I was following that parking meter shit show.

Mike: That got out of hand. I don’t know how people do not know how to behave in a public environment.

Biking in Mpls: Yeah, it was a mob mentality over something that’s so absurd.

Mike: I was reading a Richard Scarry book to my daughter. I found this image of Dingo the dog running over parking meters and there was a little frightened parking meter. I sent out to the rest of the St. Paulites who has laughed at that whole thing unfolding. It’s hard because, like anywhere and especially in our state and country, we’ve built up a culture of independence associated with automobiles. The Baby Boom generation that’s moving from being the producers to retiring, a lot of their identity is built up with that mythos of the automobile. Anything that threatens that feels like a personal attack. Getting people past that is difficult in some ways. I’m often surprised by those who are most vocal against some of these things are not that audience, at least in St. Paul when I’ve gone to meetings.

Biking in Mpls: Oh really? I’m picturing them all being really old men.

Mike: There’s a degree of that, yes. But there are also some people with the Cleveland Avenue bike lanes in particular who were young people with families, with kids younger than mine, who own a business or own a building along that way. They have sent out a lot of misinformation and invested their own time and money to create a negative campaign against that stuff. It just floors me. I think of myself with a family, it’s how I think we should set the priority. Let’s make safety and a human focus a priority in our infrastructure.

Biking in Mpls: I was really surprised during the Grand Avenue parking meter debate. I feel like social media right now is a cesspool, no matter what you say you can get attacked. I waded into those waters during the Grand Avenue meter thing. I responded to something on Facebook and it was a mistake.

Mike: Yeah, I haven’t done that but Bill, and Matt, and Mike will dive into the neighborhood pages that tend to bring out some of the worst elements. It’s one of those things that always floors me. This is a neighborhood listserv or Facebook page, and people’s names are on there. It’s not hard to figure out who these people are but they’re just spouting off.

Biking in Mpls: I responded to one woman who wrote how she didn’t want to have to pay a dollar to go get a loaf of bread. She said, “I’m not cheap we just think it’ll hurt the neighborhood if we have to pay to go to the stores that we like.” And I said, “Well if you live in the neighborhood you could walk there.” I said that people pay for parking no matter what, you pay for it through your taxes. It’s more fair for people to pay for what they use versus everyone paying through taxes even if they don’t use it. Eventually her husband chimed in saying, “I pay for things I don’t use with my taxes like public school since my children go to private.” And I’m thinking, you send your kids to private school but you can’t pay a buck to park? Really? After that I didn’t even respond, clearly nothing I could say will get through.

Mike: We’re at a weird point of a lot of different things within the Twin Cities area in particular. That comment of the public school thing reminded me of how the desegregation efforts peaked in the area in the late 1980s, but we’ve re-segregated because of offering school choice. People aren’t acting out of racism but they’re acting out of self-interest. I keep seeing all these arguments, whether it’s bike infrastructure or public schools or what’s happening in North Minneapolis, and people are becoming more tribal, more isolationist in a way that’s very dangerous. Especially as a guy who has three kids, it makes me a little nervous about what’s happening. You have to keep fighting for what you support and to keep putting yourself out there. You have to show up to public meetings, even though I dread them, but you kind of have to make sure you’re being a calm, rational voice for the good that you think can happen. There’s a lot of vitriol. There’s a lot of resentment and fear.

Biking in Mpls: I see it with bike stuff on a constant basis. I’m getting to a point of wondering why I engage with people who say these things anymore. But I don’t care about the person who’s saying the negative thing, I care about the 17 other people who are going to read their comment and say, “oh that’s a good point,” if they don’t see anyone responding to it. It’s a thankless task and who knows if it’s even worth doing.

Mike: They don’t see a counterpoint, yeah.

Mike Mason is a cyclist living in St. Paul.